Natural gas forwards markets fell an average of 13 cents for April as market players brushed off a surprise storage report and remained fixated on forecasts showing mild conditions over much of the country during the next two weeks, according to NGI’s Forward Look.
The double-digit decline mimicked the drop in the Nymex April contract, which fell 15.1 cents between Feb. 26 and March 3 despite a larger-than-expected draw from storage.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a 48 Bcf draw from storage, which was above expectations in the lower 40 Bcf range.
Despite the so-called “bullish” miss, inventories are now 45.6% above year-ago levels and 35.6% above the five-year average.
And with mild temperatures ahead, end-of-winter stocks are expected to be plentiful.
Forecasters with NatGasWeather show a mild pattern setting up east of the Rockies in the coming week and lasting for at least 10 days to two weeks, resulting in a prolonged period of lighter-than-normal natural gas demand.
A few weather systems will continue to hit portions of the United States, but “we just don’t expect they’ll be able to tap into very cold Canadian air and should lead to lighter-than-normal natgas demand as afternoon temperatures reach the comfortable 50s to 80s over most regions,” NatGasWeather said.
The mild conditions are setting the stage for a possible record for the warmest winter.
The forecast for the first half of March looks nearly as mild as March 2012, which was the mildest March ever recorded and punctuated the mildest winter ever recorded, according to Genscape’s Eric Fell, senior natural gas analyst.
Genscape, based in Louisville, KY, is a real-time data and intelligence provider for energy and commodity markets.
“From November-February, we have accumulated 57 fewer gas-weighted degree days than the 11-12 winter, and we have a reasonable shot at breaking the record for the mildest winter ever recorded,” Fell said.
“Regardless of whether we set a new winter temperature record, we will end this winter with close to 2.5 Tcf in the ground just like 2012,” Fell said.
It’s those bearish fundamentals that drove natural gas forwards lower across the country.
Average forward prices were 13.2 cents lower for April, 9 cents lower for May and 4 cents lower for the balance of summer (June-October), Forward Look data shows.
But there are glimmers of hope for some markets as the rise in temperatures means a drop in output from generators going down this spring, either for routine maintenance or permanently.
In New York, Entergy’s Indian Point No. 2 nuclear plant is expected to be offline March 6-30 for maintenance that could bring about some 150 MMcf/d of incremental gas demand, Genscape said.
In addition, the 439-MW Huntley coal-fired plant, which is expected to be permanently shut sometime in March, could bring about as much as 40 MMcf/d.
Meanwhile, more than 3 GW of new gas-fired generation is scheduled to go into service in the region this summer, adding as much as 415 MMcf/d of natural gas demand, according to Bentek Energy.
Forward prices in New York don’t appear to reflect the potential increase in natural gas demand, as price shifts along the front half of the curve are fairly in line with other markets.
Transco zone 6-New York April prices were down 15 cents between Feb. 26 and March 3 to reach $1.24, while the balance of summer (June-October) was down 4.4 cents to $1.39, Forward Look data shows.
Over in the Midwest, however, forward curves are more reflective of the changing landscape in the region.
According to Genscape, seven nuclear reactors are expected to be temporarily shut down for maintenance between now and May 16.
In addition, the region will also lose generation from two coal-fired plants: Michigan-based Consumers Energy will shut its 371-MW J.R. Whiting and its Weadock units #7 and #8, both of which have a nameplate capacity of 171 MW and are considered baseload, the company said.
The potential increase in demand left the balance of summer (June-October) at Michigan Consolidated Gas down 3.2 cents between Feb. 26 and March 3, compared with a 5-cent decline at the benchmark Henry Hub, Forward Look data shows.
At $1.94, current April 2016 prices in Michigan are 90 cents below the average price for the entire summer last year, according to NGI historical data.
Meanwhile, Chicago citygates’ balance-of-summer package slipped 2.9 cents to $1.91, 79 cents below the year-ago summer average.